Last year’s harvest still stuck at Northam
Part of last year’s harvest still waiting at the end of last month to be cleared from Northam.
Local farmers fear transport
bottlenecks may force this year’s
crop to be dumped on ground
By Frank Panizza and Michael Sinclair-Jones
TRANSPORT delays have angered local farmers gearing up for another big harvest.
They say that up to a fifth of last year’s record crop has yet to be shifted from major storage sites at railheads such as Northam.
Many believe another record crop will overwhelm WA’s struggling transport network and cause it to fail.
It has raised fears that some of this year’s harvest may have to be dumped on the ground, where it can be used only for stock feed instead of milling.Read more
Toodyay relies on agriculture to sustain its local economy.
Most grain grown in the Central Wheatbelt is trucked to local receival depots, shifted to Northam and railed to Kwinana for shipment to overseas markets.
Buyers are offering $50 a tonne more to ship grain from newer, faster grain handling facilities in Esperance and Geraldton.
Local farmers blame grain handler CBH and the state government for failure to modernise local grain handling networks.
Large amounts of bulk grain stored under tarpaulins at Northam are from last year’s harvest – some of it already triple-handled.
CBH’s Kwinana Zone – which has 72 receival sites stretching from Coorow to Dalwallinu, Lake King and Williams, including Northam – produces about half the state’s grain harvest.
Most of it – not just wheat – is exported through the port of Kwinana to Asian countries including Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines.
Less than 10 per cent of the harvest is sold to the WA domestic market.
Esperance has only six receival sites but these were built in the 1980s and are far more modern and can handle bigger trucks than those in the Kwinana Zone, which were built 60 to 80 years ago.
Annual WA crop sizes have grown significantly in the last 10 years, from 12-14 million tonnes to more than 20 million tonnes in just the past two years.
Many farmers believe the added strain will overwhelm WA’s outdated grain handling facilities and cause them to fail.
They say it is absurd that local grain is highly sought after by overseas buyers but can’t reach the port fast enough to meet demand.
It highlighted the urgent need for concerted action by government and industry to build better truck and rail access to the port.
Farmers say while WA has enough space to store grain, it can’t be shifted fast enough and ends up clogging the system.
They say fixing this logistical problem is of paramount importance for regional WA and the state economy.
WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said two big harvests in a row had caused major logistical challenges in delivering grain to the port.
However, they needed to be seen in perspective, she said.
Rail networks were being upgraded and the Minister said she was confident local farmers would again get good returns for this year’s crop.
CBH has a comprehensive plan to deal with the surge,” she said.
“Projects to upgrade the Kwinana Zone rail network will start rolling out later this year.
“There will always be logistical problems with such big increases – we get that,” she said.
“It won’t be optimal but capability is being increased.
“Our focus is on getting it out.”
A CBH spokesperson said the company had added 2.4 million tonnes of temporary storage to its network in preparation for this year’s harvest.
A further 300,000 tonnes of permanent storage had also been added.
À total of 3.3 million tonnes was currently stored in the network and this level was falling as out-loading continued.
“Farmers are best placed to make informed decisions for their business,” the spokesperson said.
“However, they will not be forced by CBH to tip their grain on the ground.”